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Library Instruction: A Guide for Introverts

March 1, 2018

If you are an introvert like me, you might dread the idea of having 30+ sets of eyes focused on you multiple times a day. Social interaction drains an introvert’s energy. Additionally, introverts tend to spend a lot of time processing new information internally. It can be nerve-racking to adapt a lesson on the spot to meet the differing needs of each class. I want to share the tips and tricks I use to help me manage my expectations, my energy levels, and my effectiveness as an instructor.

Before Class

Touch base with the professor. Ask the professor what they want their students to get out of the session and how responsive the class is. This information helps me prepare my learning goals and sets my expectations for how engaged the class will be during discussion or activities. There is nothing worse than having a great discussion laid out and then getting blank stares from the class. Knowing that might be the case ahead of time prevents a lot of anxiety and loss of stability in the moment.

Outline the lesson in detail. Writing down my step-by-step process keeps my focus on the learning outcomes, and having that solid foundation to fall back on gives me more confidence to solicit and apply ad-lib student input to the points I make. In my lesson plan, I include group activities that allow me to “rest” and process the session while the students engage in the activity. This gives me time to refocus and rebalance if necessary. I also have backup activities or more complex information on hand if time and the class dynamic seem open to that. In the case that a class is not responsive, I have backup examples, questions, or discussion points at the ready to keep the session flowing. (I actually rarely have had to use these since I find that focusing discussion and activities on elements that are directly applicable to the class or assignment makes students more willing to contribute.)

Practice the lesson. This includes how I want to phrase specific ideas (and writing keywords down on the lesson plan I take to class with me to jog my memory) and going through the motions of conducting a test library search to make sure the website is working the way I expect it to. Related to this:

Prepare for the unexpected as much as possible. I adapt my search demonstration to off-the-cuff student topics to keep the lesson relevant. This means I cannot practice with a pre-determined topic and go into class knowing to avoid, for example, a full-text article link that happens to be broken. Sometimes such an issue inconveniently arises just as I am explaining how easy full-text access is. However, I can prepare how to handle the situation and to retain focus on showing students how the resource works without overwhelming them, as well as who to contact when it does not work.

Drink water.

Go to the bathroom before class starts. Yes, really! This seems intuitive, but if I do not make it an actual step in my process, I forget to do it because of everything else I am thinking about in preparation for the instruction session. Nothing distracts me more than an insistent bladder, and the goal is to have the fewest factors on my mind while teaching.

During Class

Drink water. I have a water bottle with me and take sips during the built-in break times, or any time as needed. I had not anticipated how quickly my throat dries out while speaking!

Keep focused. I can be thrown off by a new or unexpected idea and spiral down the rabbit hole of examining that idea. But during class is not the time! I do not let a weird comment or interruption occupy my thoughts and instead fall back on my lesson plan to refocus the conversation and my attention on the learning outcome.

Be flexible. Outlining my lesson and preparing for the unexpected frees up mental space for me to answer questions, expand on student-provided examples, and customize the lesson on the fly. It is more helpful, useful, and relevant to the students to do so rather than stick to a rigid script that will not meet the needs of every class.

After Class

Drink water. Hydration is important!

Review feedback. I usually wait a few hours to a day before doing this so that I can process my own experience of the session before taking student experiences and potential modifications into account. This is also the time to ruminate over any weird comments or ideas that came up.

Pat myself on the back. I’m done! (For now.)

As you can see, most of the steps occur during the prep phase. Understanding why I am in front of that particular class, what my goals for that lesson are, and how I am going to achieve those goals provide the solid foundation I need to stay on target and be comfortable with flexibility. It is really about moving my internal information processing time into the prep stage where it is most effective instead of trying to fight a losing battle against my introversion while in front of a class.

Time and experience will make this process easier. In the six months I have been providing library instruction, I have already noticed an improvement in my comfort level in front of a class by embracing my introversion and taking the steps listed above.

I have two final thoughts to share:

Stay confident. You already have the skills to think through problems and conduct research. Any lesson you teach will help students become more information literate. If you try something in class and it does not work, just change or remove it for the next class. I learned very quickly that lesson planning, like many aspects of librarianship, is an iterative process, and that is okay.

You are not alone. The idea of seeking out another person to interact with and further draining your social energy after teaching these sessions seems counterintuitive, but chances are high you have a colleague, friend, or family member who shares the same experiences. Talking that out, confirming that you are not alone or weird (or an imposter) for being drained by a significant part of your job can help alleviate the stress from teaching as an introvert.

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